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The War Show

Syria and the Arab Spring are not exactly new subjects for documentaries, yet Obaidah Zytoon and her Danish collaborator Andreas Dalsgaard approach the topic from an entirely new perspective. The War Show is a documentary comprised of Zytoon’s personal footage from the time the uprising began in 2011 up until Syria became what we see today in the news.

Incredibly personal, emotional and raw, The War Show follows Zytoon and her group of friends as they protest against the oppressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Zytoon has a successful career in radio, and her group of friends are a collection of academics, artists, dentists and free-thinkers. When the protests begin, Zytoon and her friends take to the streets to participate, and as tensions escalate, it became imperative to Zytoon to document the happenings as her own way of combating the governmental and social censorship, arbitrary arrests and eventual torture that not only affects the nameless, but also her dear friends, who in one scene we watch enjoying life on a beach, and in the next we are told how they are killed.

Broken into descriptive chapters – revolution, suppression, resistance, siege, memories, frontline and extremism, The War Show begins with hopeful spirits, and those spirits are carried throughout most of the film. At times The War Show is hard to watch, especially when the group of friends begins to disintegrate and we are shown just how they are tortured and killed, it hits you like an emotional hammer. This is particularly true because her friends eerily and pessimistically predict their own fates. But witnessing the demise of such a free-thinking group is definitely hard to take.

But beyond that, The War Show is successful in documenting what it means by ‘show’. During its one hundred minutes, The War Show demonstrates how truth and representation in the media becomes one of the very first victims of war. In this case, that’s because either the regime produces doctored footage or the resistance fighters fake footage to use as a money generating gimmick, as seen in a scene where Zytoon and her friend are confronted by gun-wielding men and told to put on headscarfs. This is where The War Show truly succeeds – it gives us a personal look at just how manipulated the situation in Syria has become, and it is a truly excellent documentary not to be missed.

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Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.